Mrs Kim’s has fired imaginations and its tables are full most nights.

Mrs Kim's Grill

13:37:PM 02/03/2014
Leanne Tolra

Sizzling start:  Owner Joanne Chang in her first restaurant venture.  Photo: Chris Hopkins
Sizzling start: Owner Joanne Chang in her first restaurant venture. Photo: Chris Hopkins

Mrs Kim’s Grill

136 Koornang Road, Carnegie

Cuisine | Korean

Chef | Joanne and Hugh Chang

Prices | Mains $12-$18; sides $2-$7; desserts $5-$7

Open | Daily 5.30pm-10pm; Sunday noon-3pm

Phone | 9563 4424

The Verdict | Put it on your list


Mrs Kim's Grill on Urbanspoon

Now this is a smart business model. Get ’em in, and out, fast. And feed ’em meat. Really tasty meat, at open grills, in a minimalist, fashionable space on an emerging suburban foodie street.

Joanne Chang and husband Hugh opened their modern Korean barbecue restaurant on thriving Koornang Road late last year. Carnegie locals won’t thank us for telling you about it.

They come in small groups looking for a quick, cheap feed and there are myriad options on this Asian-influenced strip of shops. But Mrs Kim’s has fired imaginations and its tables are full most nights.

The clever concept revolves around marinated meat cooked over gas-fired grills at the centre of about a dozen tables. Staff, mostly young Korean women, some with limited English, work at the grills turning marinated meat with tongs and trimming it at impressive speed with scissors.

The meat, and its accompanying salads and condiments, is prepared and ready for service before the doors open at 5.30pm. Smart – no need for a chef each night. Ostensibly there are three sittings. It takes about 90 minutes to feed a group of four; bigger groups seem to take a little longer, pairs a little less.

Avocado Salad.
Avocado Salad.
Chang says she is loath to turn customers out and the timing is flexible, still there was definite watch-pointing and foot-tapping at precisely 8.30pm following our first 7pm booking on a Saturday. Chang says a group of 25 stayed all night the following Sunday, but we saw staff move on a few families earlier that same evening. It’s a difficult thing to get right; we’d give the place a 7/10 on that account.

There is a real Mrs Kim. She is Joanne’s mother, and she has been running a meat wholesaling venture supplying Korean and Japanese restaurants for 15 years. The restaurant is the first food business for Joanne and Hugh. Her background is in marketing, his in the airline industry.

They took the long, narrow shopfront back to bare bones, exposing its concrete floors and rendering its walls the same subdued grey. Obligatory duct work and exhaust fans have been coated canary yellow. There’s a sea-green banquette along one wall, set with pale timber and black-trimmed furnishings. Higher benches and matching stools line the other wall. A series of black metal frames, strategically placed over tables, hold overhead globes at one end and hooks for handbags at the other.

Home-made Kimchi.
Home-made Kimchi.
The menu is a Melbourne version of traditional Korean food, which Chang says is a reflection of her own mixed heritage. Most popular are the meal sets – described by childhood barnyard names – moo, baa, oink and cluck, priced at $39 for two.

Marinades and the grill technique ring true, plus there are complimentary sides of house-made kimchi, pickled onion, ssamjang soy bean dipping sauce and a bowl of prettily shredded spring onion. The salads need attention. That they are not typically Korean is OK, but the smoked salmon and onion combination didn’t work with grilled meat, the tomato and avocado combo lacked freshness, and the ssam vegies – trimmed lettuce leaves to wrap around the meat – included unwieldy chunks of carrot and cucumber.

Butter and garlic potatoes and slices of corn cob, served in mini metal baking dishes; a soup of the day – a changing miso-style broth; and rice served in old-fashioned metal lunch boxes are part of each set. It’s a generous offering and works well for sharing.

In two sittings we tried all four sets. The galbi beef and skirt steak were tender and nicely trimmed of any fat, the soy pork belly and pork neck fillet were excellent, and the chilli-marinated chicken lightly spiced. The medial-cut soy lamb ribs were just as good, and I’d struggle to select a favourite.

The grill plates in the centre of each table didn’t seem hot enough, yet cooked the food quickly and efficiently; staff change the plates with each new set of meat.

The menu also offers a butcher-cut selection that includes brisket, ox tongue and rib eye fillet at $18 for 250g. Chang hopes to add more premium cuts, including wagyu and a seafood selection.

Desserts didn’t seem necessary, but there’s ice green tea or sesame ice-cream and smoothies on offer.

Mrs Kim’s Grill will do well. The marinated meat is excellent, it shouldn’t take much work to improve the salads, and the concept is fun, casual and social. Mother’s meat supply business will get a nice boost, too.

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